2. Spark

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Of all the men Ray brought home, Trenton was the worst. Outside of the often visible and audible PDA they engaged in, he never seemed to leave. Reagan, now 15, usually ignored her mother’s company, since they never stuck around long anyway.

Reagan stood in the bathroom, snapping pictures of herself in the new striped shirt she’d purchased with her first paycheck. She’d felt him creep past a few times, but ignored him. If he was hovering for the bathroom, he could wait; this was HER house.

The last time he walked by, he lingered in the doorway. Even though he was obviously homeless, his clothes and shoes were always brand new. “Don’t you think those shorts are too short?” he said. Reagan turned to see his eyes snap back upward to her face.
“What?” she said. Normally, she’d answer respectfully, since he was an adult, but she didn’t take kindly to her mother’s company talking to her. At all.
“You got…a lot going on. I don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea about you,” he said. By now, he was obviously looking at her body with more than concern. Reagan reached the handle and slammed the door in his face.
 
She remained there for the rest of the afternoon. Alma marched up the stairs and banged on the door with all the strength her palm could muster. “Reagan Mae Dobson, you better get the hell out my bathroom before I tear this door off the frame!”

Reagan opened the door, now clad in her grandmother’s robe. “I thought you had somewhere to be. Why are you in my robe?” Reagan tried to open her mouth and tell her grandmother what happened but she closed it. The only thing she felt was shame and couldn’t handle whatever her grandmother would say. She crossed the hall into her bedroom and shut the door.

Alma was on her heels, joining her in the room before the latch could catch in the doorframe. “Reagan, talk to me,” Alma said. She knew something was wrong with her granddaughter and she feared the worst.
“Trenton told me my shorts were too short.”
“Well, who the hell is he? If I bought them, they’re okay.”
“No. It’s not that,” Reagan said, folding her arms across her chest. She couldn’t shake the disgust that snaked up her spine. Alma sat on the bed next to her granddaughter, patient as she waited for her reply.
“It was the way he…looked at me. Like he does when he follows Mah into another room.”
“Lust,” Alma sighed. Beneath the surface of her smooth cocoa skin, she was fuming.
“Talking about he didn’t ‘want anyone to get the wrong idea about me’,” Reagan said. She roughly wiped away the tears that had begun to fall, annoyed she’d become this emotional again. Alma pulled the girl into her chest and held her. “You didn’t do anything wrong, Reagan. You’re a good girl, you always have been and I promise that it will never happen again, as long as you are under this roof and there is breath in my body.”

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1. Return

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Reagan didn’t know what to expect when she crossed the threshold of her childhood home. The walls had been repainted, the furniture was replaced but she still recognized it as home. Her grandmother’s wall of plants were still thriving, perfectly placed in front of the bay window. “Gigi? Mah? You guys here?” Reagan said, dropping her backpack on the couch. She walked down the hall towards the kitchen, hoping her grandmother was cooking a welcome home feast of all her favorite high-calorie foods. She found the kitchen spotless and empty.

Reagan made her way throughout the rest of the house until she found her old bedroom, still decorated with her Word Up! Posters of boy bands long gone. The collage of photos hung over her desk, full of pictures of friends and postcards of destinations she’d planned to take. The bed was freshly made, dressed with new yellow linens to match the yellow throw rug at the foot of the bed. As she slipped deeper into her nostalgia, she heard the heavy front door open and close. She galloped down the stairs to see her mother, kicking off a pair of 5 inch heels.

“Hey Mah,” Reagan said, coming down the rest of the stairs.
“Reagan? My baby!” Ray said, throwing her arms around her daughter. “I didn’t know you were coming in today! I would’ve taken the day off!”
“It’s fine, I just got here. Where’s Gigi?”
“It’s Wednesday. She’s got her card game with the biddies down the street. Come in, let me look at you!” Ray said, spinning her daughter around. They sat on the couch and Ray threw her arms around her daughter again.
“I have missed you SO much!”
“I missed you too, Mah.”
“Tell me everything. What happened with you and what’s his name? Jetson?”
“Hudson. And nothing really. He proposed, I said no, then bought a plane ticket,” Reagan said, shrugging her shoulders.
Ray patted her daughter on the thigh. “Good for you, baby. Don’t let these nappy-head niggas tie you down. You have so much more going for you than being a wife,” Ray said before standing again.
“We need to celebrate! Let’s go out tonight!” Ray said, pulling her daughter from the couch. Reagan had forgotten how much natural energy her mother had. “I don’t know, Mah, I kinda just want dinner and a hot bath.”
“Oh, don’t start that old lady shit with me! I get enough of that from Mah!”

As if on cue, the front door opened once more and Alma Mae entered the house and took in the scene. “Reagan! Baby!” Alma said, pulling her granddaughter into a tight embrace.
“Hi Gigi!” Reagan said, embracing her grandmother. Alma even smelled the same to Reagan, like warm shortbread cookies.
“What are you doing here? I thought you didn’t come in for another few days.”
“I was…really anxious about getting here,” Reagan said, partially fibbing.
“Anxious to get away from that Jetson boy,” Ray said, sauntering into the kitchen.
“Hudson and no, I was not,” Reagan yelled after her mother.
“Why, what happened boo?”
“He just…proposed a little.”
“OH MY LORD JESUS! Let me see the ring!” Alma said, clapping her hands together.
Before Reagan could offer an explanation, Alma had pulled her left hand up to inspect the ring that wasn’t there.
“He didn’t have a ring?” She asked, her top lip turned slightly in disgust.
“I didn’t accept it.”
“Oh, honey, you can always go pick out a new one. That’s what gift receipts are for,” Alma said as she headed to the kitchen behind her daughter. Reagan sighed before following them.
“I didn’t accept his proposal,” Reagan said, sitting down at the table.
Alma, who had begun pulling leftovers from the fridge, froze. “Well, why not?” she said, dropping the Tupperware on the table with a little too much gusto. Ray snorted into the glass of lemonade she’d poured.
“Maybe she doesn’t want to be tied down to some ain’t shit man for the rest of her life.”
“Oh, shut up Ray,” Alma said, swatting at her daughter.
“I don’t know. I just wasn’t…excited. I always thought when I met the one, I’d feel it. Sparks or something,” Reagan said, shrugging her shoulders.
“You don’t have to settle. There are plenty of men who will set your whole person ablaze,” Ray said, setting another glass in front of her daughter.
“Sparks are overrated. I felt sparks the first time I met your grandfather. Sparks lead to fire,” Alma said, sipping from the glass her daughter left unattended.

The woman straightened her dress after she pressed the doorbell. She’d seen the address on Theodore’s driver’s license so many times, she had it memorized: 341 Tireman Rd. The woman, his wife, opened the door and dried her hands on the towel she’d draped on her shoulder. It was the day before the holiday, July 3rd and she had plenty of food to prep before the family arrived.
“Yes?” Alma asked the mystery woman. She was empty-handed so Alma immediately knew she wasn’t a saleswoman.
“Alma Dobson?”
“Yes?” Alma repeated, finding herself annoyed.
“Who is it, Mommy?” A little girl appeared behind her mother, the spitting image of Theodore, with pigtails.
“Mind your business, Almathea.”
“Hi, little lady. What’s your name?” the woman asked the small child, kneeling slightly. Alma stepped in front of her child and placed her hand on her hip.
“Can I help you?”
“I just wanted to know if Theodore was coming home,” the woman said, straightening suddenly and staring Alma square in the eye.
“It’s the holiday. Theodore is already home.”
The woman chuckled and licked her lips, prepared to spill the secret she’d been keeping for weeks.
“Everyone knows he’s just playing house over here, until he gets up the courage. He might be afraid of you, but I’m not. I just wanted to let you know that—“
“Know what? You need to talk a little faster,” Alma said.
“Your husband has been sleeping with me. For weeks now. I just wanted to be a woman and let you know that we plan on getting married.”

Alma’s face didn’t budge, not from surprise or distress; she’d already known about her husband’s extracurricular activities. “Is that all?”
“I’d just like to know when Theodore is coming home,” the woman repeated, gathering up what little dignity she had left. Alma grinned at her audacity.
“You enjoy your weekend,” Alma said, attempting to shut the door, when the woman stuck her foot in the doorframe.
“Excuse me, bitch, I wasn’t done,” the woman said, trying to push the door off her now-pinned foot.

What happened next would be talked about for months and would prevent any of Theodore’s women from darkening their doorway. Alma opened the door again and stepped onto the porch, forcing the woman to take a step back.
“Theodore Macrae Dobson lives at 341 Tireman Rd,” Alma said before backhanding the woman with her left hand. The strike stunned her and knocked her to the ground.
“There is but ONE bitch with paperwork on Theodore Dobson,” she said, before punching the woman full in the face. She tried to crawl down the steps before Alma grabbed her and shoved her into the banister three times, breaking several of the wooden planks on the side.
“That bitch’s name is Alma Mae Dobson and if you ever come over here again, thinking you run some shit, you better remember that you are on MY property and the police won’t think twice about me defending my home and my family,” Alma said, before kneeling to whisper in the woman’s ear. “With my pistol,” she said before throwing the woman out onto the street.

Theodore, tall and dark, bound out the house when he heard the commotion from the kitchen. He came out to see his wife walking back into the house while Whitney struggled to stand in the street, her face covered in blood. Stunned, he turned to Alma, who kissed him sweetly on the lips before asking “Are the ribs done, baby?”

“Gigi, when are you gonna get this porch fixed?” Reagan asked, as she began pulling her boxes from the car out front. Alma stopped and admired the broken posts. “They remind me of your granddaddy,” she said, smiling to herself.

Ray didn’t give her daughter a chance to unpack before she began demanding they go out. “Here, wear this,” she said, tossing her daughter a strappy navy-blue dress.
“Mah, really?” Reagan said, inspecting the dress. Knowing her mother, it would reveal way more than Reagan was comfortable, however, she knew her mother would pick out something much worse if she complained.
“Just put it on!”

Dressed, Reagan tiptoed into her mother’s room and watched her at her vanity. Even as a child, Reagan loved watching her mother get ready to leave out, because she made everything seem as though it were a special occasion. Even in her 40s, she was still exceptionally beautiful and she used that beauty to pass for a woman in her 30s. Everything about her appearance had to be perfect and in place. Ray had encouraged her daughter to be everything she could be: smart, funny, cultured, but her emphasis on beauty was paramount.
Alma walked by and spotted her daughter in her mirror before she whispered in Reagan’s ear. “Maybe you guys will be gone by Labor Day.”
“I heard that!” Ray said, never taking her eyes off the mirror as she drew a perfect line of eyeliner. “I am so excited that you are here, Reagan. I just started going to this new place called Clover and I just LOVE it! And the men,” Ray said, before giving a suggestive shiver.
“I thought it would just be us, Mah,” Reagan said, sitting as best as she could on the end of the bed in the bandage dress.
“What’s a party without men?” Ray said as she sprayed setting spray all over her face.

The party at Clover seemed to be just that: men of varying ages, shooting their shots at every available woman in the room. As soon as Ray and Reagan entered, they were swept up in a bevy of offers and compliments. Ray, a frequent flier, danced away, eager to entertain her new friends, leaving Reagan standing awkwardly near the exit. She migrated to the bar, where she planned on staying until her mother tired herself out.
“What can I get you?” the pretty blonde bartender asked.
“Jameson and coke,” Reagan said, before surveying the room. Out the corner of her eye, she spotted her mother climbing up onto a table and dancing to the Migos song that was playing.
“Actually, hold the coke,” Reagan said over her shouder to the bartender.

An hour had gone by before she saw her mother again, who had rushed to the bar on the arm of a stranger. “Reagan! Meet Hammer! Hammer, this is my daughter, Reagan,” Ray said, snuggling up to the large man.
Hammer?” Reagan said, giving her mother an incredulous look.
“Daughter? You guys could be sisters,” the man said, looking too hard at the two of them. Reagan could sense the gross thoughts that were crossing his mind as he stood in front of two beautiful women and she scoffed.
“Can I buy you another drink?” he asked.
“No, Hammer, I’m good,” Reagan said, before downing the remainder of her third drink and walking off.

Ray followed her daughter to the bathroom, where she was washing her hands. “Are you ready to leave?”
“Yeah, kinda. I don’t wanna stop the party between you and Hammer,” Reagan said sarcastically.
“I’m sorry, I just wanted to cheer you up.” Reagan sighed as she looked up in the mirror at her mother.
“No. I’m sorry. I have been a Debbie Downer today. I guess I’m just more tired than I thought. We don’t have to leave if you don’t want.”
“Or…you could take the car and I can ride with Hammer,” Ray said, smiling.
Reagan turned around, ready to tell her mother off. It annoyed Reagan that her mother was still up to her old tricks and had used her as an excuse. However, the whiskey was kicking in and she wanted nothing more to lay in her bed. Plus, she’d just be wasting her breath. Her mother would never change. “Sure, Mom. Have fun,” Reagan said, pulling her mother into a tight hug.

Handsome

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The cardboard box in Marie’s front seat jingled as the car came to a halt. It had recently been filled with her personal items from a cramped desk after she was emailed a layoff notice. She sighed as she yanked her purse from beneath it and left the car.

Woody’s was her normal haunt on the weekends, a means of celebrating her often short-lived weekends with her friends. During the week, like this particular Wednesday, the place resembled a ghost town.
“Whiskey, please. Make it a double,” she said, perching on one of the lesser worn stools at the end of the bar. The bartender, one of the weekday workers, poured the drink swiftly and slid it in front of her. Marie downed the drink in one gulp.
“Another one, please.”
“Looks like you had the same kind of day I had,” said the man several seats away.

She hadn’t noticed him, at first. She’d been too preoccupied with her drink choice before deciding it didn’t matter; it wasn’t as if she had to work in the morning. Now, looking at him, he was far more attractive than his surroundings. “Well, I just lost a really cushy job. Of course, they wanted me to finish the day first,” she said, taking a sip from the fresh glass in front of her.
“I guess we both learned how little we matter today,” he said. His words stung a little deeper than she expected.
“I’m sorry. My girlfriend…she left me today,” he said, shaking his head before sipping the clear drink in front of him.
“Her loss,” Marie said, raising her glass and taking a sip as well. The man wiped his hand on his jeans before extending it to Marie, leaning across the seats between them.
“Jefferson,” he said with a grin.
“Marie.” Continue reading

Conversation

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Lindsey couldn’t remember the pain. The images had been there- the blood, the soundless screaming, the deafening sound of her heart in her ears- but the pain was missing. It all seemed pointless without it.

“Are you ready?” asked a voice from behind her. She wasn’t startled, but curious to see who joined her in the void.

“For what?”

“Whatever is next,” she said, appearing suddenly. Something inside of Lindsey knew she wasn’t quite human. Her movements were too fluid, her features were too perfect. Lindsey recognized it as her own form, without the clumsy gait. Even her wild, curly hair seemed perfectly coiffed, something it never did in reality.

“Are you God?” She laughed, a chorus of bells instead of Lindsey’s awkward guffaws.

“I’ve always hated that moniker.”

“What would you like me to call you?”

“I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me that. But then again, Lindsey, you’ve always been special,” she said. The smile was meant to be reassuring.

“Is my mom here?”

“Yes.”

“Can I see her?”

“No.”

“Why?”

The faux Lindsey made a face as she thought of an answer. Lindsey was never one to be coddled and the answer would need to be concise to satisfy her.

“She’s moved past her humanity. Same as you, same as everyone who comes here.”

“So she doesn’t remember me?”

The deity wasn’t used to the emotional pushback. It had been designed that way to prevent arrest in the process. Lindsey recognized the pause, but it failed to deter her.

“Is this heaven?”

“Heaven is a myth.”

“So where are we?”

“Technically? Just outside your Milky Way galaxy.”

“So we just float here forever?”

“I forget which of you said ‘Energy cannot be created or destroyed’ but he hit it on the head. Think of your soul as energy, powering your flesh. When the flesh is destroyed, that energy become the energy that powers the universe. A part of the whole. Your humanity will fall away, the memories, the happiness, the struggles, the disdain, all become obsolete. There is no more individual and you will be…content.”

Lindsey didn’t expect her mind to still be running a mile a minute. The blissful feelings were there, surrounded by shrouds of human worry. “No, it is not a trick.”

“I hated you. For so long.”

“I know.”

“You have no idea what it was like. Living with a broken heart,” Lindsey said, the hot tears falling from her face.

“The pain ends,” the doppelgänger said, giving Lindsey a small smile and extending her hand. Lindsey chuckled deep before wiping her face.

“God, I hope so.”

Photograph

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“I wanna meet this girl who’s been occupying all my baby’s time,” Ricky’s mother, Phyllis, said. Before her son could reply, the waiter returned and deposited their brunch in front of them.

“Things are still new. I don’t wanna chase her away,” Ricky laughed before scooping potatoes into his mouth.

“Tell me all about her.”

“She’s wonderful, really. Smart, funny, gorgeous. She keeps me in check.”

“I love her already.” Time with his mother was precious to Ricky, since he’d so nearly lost her at the beginning of the year. The one thing she wanted was to know her son would be taken care of. He hadn’t told his mother, but he’d already begun falling in love with Alex.

“You should bring her to the barbecue this weekend. I promise, no grilling,” Phyllis said, mimicking the Boy Scouts pledge.

“I’m going to see her tonight so I’ll bring it up. No promises,” Ricky said. He was excited that his mother was excited about his new relationship, especially since she had been so negative about the girls he liked.

“Just promise me you’ll try and make this work. Treat her with all the respect and dignity you show me,” Phyllis said, taking her son’s hand. Ricky smiled and nodded, giving his mother a squeeze back.

“I promise.” Continue reading

DSW

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It was inevitable that I’d sell my body for money. Most of the girls I graduated high school with went on to procure dance cards to gyrate under hot lights the day after our matriculation. It was just the environment we’d become products of: most of our mothers were slaves to their vices, leaving us defenseless in homes throughout the county. One way or another, a man would make us victims, by force or voice. Continue reading

More of the Same

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The stove’s clock changed to 10:52 silently. The flat was dark, except for the dim light that shined in from outside. Sonia sat at the dining room table, spinning her 3rd glass of cognac between her fingers. The last 6 years had been the same: her husband would walk out the door for work and manage to find his way between the legs of a young co-ed. Marcus was beautiful and charming in the beginning. He’d lavished her with gifts and trips, promising that she was the only woman he’d ever loved. They consummated their relationship in the balmy waters of Santorini & they were inseparable from then on. The first year they were married was everything she’d hoped. He spoiled her, prompting to her to quit the measly desk work she’d believed was her career. He helped her mother & sister move to a better home in a better community and doted on his wife, loving her as largely as he could. Continue reading